“I was raised around older adults,” Nicole Norton says, as she discusses a youth spent mostly with her sister, her grandma, and her great aunt, who lived in a senior apartment building. She and her sister would go door-to-door, asking if they could help take out garbage or do dishes or any other chore. That helping spirit stayed with her all her life. Combined with her love of cooking, it’s helped make her a great asset to the Providence Life Services organization today, where she serves as Dining Services Director at Victorian Village.
“My grandma was a great cook,” Nicole says, “She shared her recipes with us and taught us how to cook. I learned so much from her.”
She also had mentors along the way, particularly in the culinary arts program she studied at Carl Sandburg High School. After graduating, Nicole knew she wanted to work in the dining field, and in 2008, found a position as a prep cook at Providence in Palos Heights. She worked her way up to Director of Dining Services there in 2016, and then in 2021, came to the Victorian Village Health & Wellness Center as Kitchen Manager. She now oversees the entire campus as the Dining Services Director.
“I had so much support from Providence staff along the way,” she says. “I already knew a lot about cooking, but they helped me understand management, budgets, and supplies. People here took time to help me succeed.”
That’s something she tries to pass on as a manager herself. “I would never ask my staff to do anything I wouldn’t do,” she says. “We’re a team, so if that means I do dishes sometimes, or sweep a floor, I do it. We work together, and I appreciate my staff so much.”
She also encourages her staff to let her know if there’s something they want to learn. “Right now, I have someone who wants to learn about the management side of working,” she says. “I’m helping her see the regulations and standards and letting her shadow that side of what I do.”
For her, staying in the Providence family makes sense. “I work for a company that cares about the residents,” she says. “Providence holds a higher standard for care. I’m glad to be a part of that.”
Nicole has always built relationships with residents by visiting as they dine, knowing that, for many residents, meals are the highlight of their day. “It’s food, of course, but it’s also a social experience,” she says. She also spends time at resident meetings to get input about what people want to see on the menu and how the staff can make the dining experience more enjoyable.
“This job is about helping people,” Nicole says. “It’s the biggest part of what we do. So I want the residents’ input about how we can help them the best ways possible.”
Nicole loves cooking soups, but her signature menu items are her chicken and dumplings and her pulled pork. When she’s not working, she’s spending time with her seven-year-old son, reading, or, believe it or not, cooking. She’s thrilled to be able to do what she loves at Providence. “You can cook anywhere,” Nicole says, “but cooking here, I’m giving back. I’m doing something for people who can’t do it for themselves anymore. Giving them the dining experience they want gives them something even bigger—dignity and respect.”